False alarms plague RAF Lossie fleet

September 24, 2016

RAF Lossiemouth's Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) fleet has been scrambled in response to more false alarms than genuine threats since being established in Moray. The Typhoon unit is on standby 24 hours a day to intercept enemy aircraft encroaching on UK airspace, but fears have been raised that pilots are being placed at "unnecessary risk" by airlines entering the nation's skies without permission. Figures obtained by the Press and Journal show that, since the squadron relocated to Lossiemouth from Leuchars two years ago, less than half of its deployments have been in response to Russian military aircraft. The jets were launched 39 times up until July, but only on 17 of those occasions were they called to combat genuine defence threats. It is understood that a small number of call-outs were in response to civil aircraft requiring assistance - but the majority have been caused by pilots entering UK airspace without permission. The revelation follows calls for airlines which cause RAF jets to be scrambled unnecessarily to be more strictly penalised. Moray MP Angus Robertson blasted those responsible for "ill-considered" activity which causes the military unwanted expense. Mr Robertson said: "The QRA aircrews at Lossiemouth do a vital job of protecting our airspace. "They respond not just to military threats, but also to civil aircraft that may be suffering problems such as lost communication right through to potential terrorist threats. “While some of the non-military interceptions will have been for civilian emergencies, in other cases ill-considered activity by aircraft such as unnecessary encroachments on our airspace can result in false alarm call outs for QRA crews. "That is clearly avoidable, as well as being expensive and placing people at unnecessary risk.” Across the country, military planes are being scrambled in response to false alarms as often as twice a month. The Department for Transport (DfT) carried out a consultation on changing the maximum fine level for airlines found to have caused the call-outs earlier this year. The organisations responsible presently face £5,000 penalties for triggering unnecessary alerts. But the government body is considering hiking fines to as much as £100,000 to deter pilots from wasting time and resources. A DfT spokeswoman said: "It is important the authorities have the right tools to do their job effectively. "That is why we have consulted on strengthening the enforcement options available, and we will respond in due course." The Quick Reaction Alert force was established during the Cold War, with a brief to detect and intercept enemy aircraft. Pilots attached to the deployment remain on high alert at all times, and the aircraft are maintained so they are ready to go into action at a moment’s notice. The squadrons were relocated from RAF Leuchars to the Lossiemouth base in September 2014, when it was decided that the Fife airbase would no longer operate as a fast-jet station. The following month, work began on improving the grounds at the Moray airfield to ensure the jets were maintained to the highest standards. Generally, pilots respond to alerts within 10 minutes – and the aircraft have been scrambled to intercept Russian bombers on a number of occasions since taking up residence in Lossiemouth. The MoD said the statistics should reassure people that the UK is protected from "airborne threats" and that the resources invested in QRA have been properly employed. A spokesman said the figures demonstrated the RAF’s ability to respond "efficiently, effectively and appropriately" to potential threats. Most recently, QRA crews were called to intercept two Russian Blackjack bombers close to UK airspace on Thursday.


RAF families lonely this Christmas

December 23, 2015

For scores of Moray's military families this Christmas will bring a mixture of emotions, as they celebrate the season while loved ones serve their country abroad. More than 100 RAF Lossiemouth personnel were deployed to Cyprus at the beginning of the month, to take part in air strikes against the IS terrorist group in Syria. They joined numerous servicemen and women already stationed overseas at bases in the Middle East and the Falkland Islands. For their families, this will mean unwrapping Christmas presents and taking in the bells on Hogmanay without those most precious to them. Lossiemouth mum, Karen Cox, says she knows all too well how it feels to spend the festive period with a spouse abroad. In 1998 Mrs Cox's husband Rob was deployed to Kuwait, to take part in activities following Operation Desert Fox, leaving her home alone with two young children - and another on the way. However, Mrs Cox says that although it could be especially hard being parted from her husband at Christmas, it was an aspect of military life common to many. She said: "Every family in the air force will have spent at least one Christmas alone, some more than that. "You feel proud that your partner is doing their job, sometimes in very tough conditions, but it is hard at a time of the year that is so focussed on spending time with family. "At that time I was pregnant with our daughter, and we had two young children as well. "It's never easy but for families like ours it becomes something you get used to." The mum-of-three said that the support military broods offered each other helped them make the most of the season. She added: "There's always someone else who has gone through it, who lets you know how they coped and what they did. "I know some of the partners who have been left behind following the most recent deployment are planning to get together. "There are a lot of people experiencing the same feelings, and they support each other." Mrs Cox explained that some military families stage only modest celebrations on December 25, and choose to stage their own makeshift Christmas when their partners return home. It has even been known that squadrons eager to make up for missed time will stage Christmas parties at the Moray airfield in February. Mr Cox, who was a corporal with 12 Squadron over Christmas in 1998, was able to return home in time for the birth of the couple's daughter Natalie the next July. The veteran recently ended 26 years in the air force, and took up a role as a full-time reservist. Mrs Cox, who lives in Lossiemouth, has devoted herself to raising funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund in recent years.